The New York Yankees didn’t have the highest of expectations to start the 2015 MLB season, but they’ve played just about as well as anyone could have predicted. The team entered the All-Star break with a 3.5-game lead in the American League East, winning 48 of their first 88 games.
Even though they are in first place, the Yankees are far from guaranteed to make the playoffs. Every team in the division still has a legitimate chance to reach the postseason, and New York only has a 6.5-game lead on the last-place Boston Red Sox.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, and the upcoming trade deadline could alter the balance of power in the division. Below is a look at the second half of the Yankees’ season, and where they might finish at the end of the year.
New York’s lineup was surprisingly good in the first half of the season. Only the Toronto Blue Jays scored more runs, and only the Houston Astros hit more homers. While there are reasons to be encouraged that the Yankees will continue to be a top hitting team, it might not be easy for them to keep up the same pace.
Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have been the team’s best sluggers, both having their best seasons since 2010. After missing nearly two full seasons, A-Rod has 18 home runs, ranking sixth in the AL with an .898 OPS. Teixeira’s 62 RBI lead the league, and his 22 home runs are fourth. But it remains to be seen whether or not both players can remain healthy. Rodriguez, soon to be 40 years old, has missed at least 40 games in every season since 2011. Teixeira, 35, last played more than 123 games four years ago.
The top of the Yankees' lineup is as good as any in the league. Brett Gardner might be having the best season of his career with an .861 OPS and 15 stolen bases, while Jacoby Ellsbury has hit .318 in 42 games. If Rodriguez and Teixeira can keep up what they’ve been doing, New York will have one of the most formidable lineups in MLB.
A strength of the team last year, New York’s starting rotation has been their biggest weakness in 2015. Ranking 11th in the AL with a 4.24 ERA, the Yankees will need more consistent performances from their starters after the All-Star break.
The Yankees were counting on Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda to be front-of-the-line starters this season, and they have fallen short of that expectation thus far. An injury has forced Tanaka to miss nearly half the year, and he’s posted a 3.63 ERA in 11 games. Pineda has remained mostly healthy, though 22 AL starters rank ahead of him and his 3.64 ERA. But if both pitchers can stay on the field, they should put up impressive numbers, considering Pineda’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) ranks ninth in all of MLB and Tanaka has a 1.03 WHIP and a strikeout per inning.
The bottom half of the rotation is more of a question mark. It doesn’t look like C.C. Sabathia will improve, and the Yankees probably won't replace him with Adam Warren in the rotation. Nathan Eovaldi is 9-2, but his 4.50 ERA indicates that he won’t be anything special in the second half. Ivan Nova has been pretty good in his four starts since returning from Tommy John Surgery, and he could be the key to giving New York three solid starters.
This is easily the most consistent part of the team. New York ranks fifth in the AL with a 3.45 ERA, and the top of their bullpen takes a backseat to no other one-two punch in the Majors.
Dellin Betances has been nearly unhittable, striking out 77 batters in 47 innings, posting a 1.53 ERA. Andrew Miller spent some time on the DL, but he’s been just as good, recording the same ERA and almost as many strikeouts per nine innings. There’s little reason to believe the setup man and closer will slow down in the second half, giving New York a weapon that few teams have.
The bullpen will improve with the return of Nova to the rotation, since Adam Warren has been moved back to the bullpen. New York doesn’t have to worry about adding a left-handed reliever, as Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have been as good as the team could’ve asked. The ability to hold onto leads down the stretch of the season could go a long way in helping the Yankees reach the playoffs.
Prediction: New York might have trouble winning any other division, but the Yankees appear to be the best of a group of mediocre to average teams. Even if Rodriguez and Teixeira take somewhat of a step back, the return of Ellsbury and the possible emergence of rookie Robert Refsnyder should keep them near the top of MLB in runs scored. With an above-average lineup, a strong front end of the rotation and a top-of-the-line back end of the bullpen, the Yankees should be good enough to make the playoffs.
Predicted Finish in AL East: First Place (90-72)